The following is a translation of President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at a press conference upon Pope Francis' arrival in Bethlehem early Sunday.
It's a great honor to welcome Your Holiness to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus (peace be upon him), the holy blessed land. Welcome, Your Holiness. You are a dear guest to our people in the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Your visit today carries all the symbolism that your name and holiness hold as a defender of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Your visit represents a call for peace during your pilgrimage to the land of Palestine, the land of love and peace.
I am very happy to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis and to listen his wise opinions and his insightful human vision. The visit of His Holiness holds a noble significance in our souls and the souls of our people. This is a historic visit that we cherish in the framework of our friendship and our spiritual and religious bonding between the Vatican and Palestine, which we aspire to strengthen. The Holy Land is the destination of millions of believers. It represents a unique model of coexistence in the spirit of harmony, brotherhood, and equality in rights and duties.
We welcome you in the State of Palestine with all the love and hospitality. We welcome your meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the city of Jerusalem.
I briefed His Holiness on the latest developments in the peace process and negotiations towards reaching a just and lasting peace, to ensures security, safety, and stability to our region and its peoples.
We have fully updated His Holiness on the outcome of the peace process and the pitfalls and obstacles which befell it, primarily the settlement enterprise, and daily attacks on places of worship including churches and mosques, as well as the continued detention of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails , who yearn for freedom. A number of these prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than 30 days in protest against ill-treatment and detention without trial or verdict, under the pretext of "administrative detention."
We have also shared with His Holiness the tragic situation experienced by the city of East Jerusalem, the capital of our country, which has been occupied since 1967. Israel has been systematically working to change the identity and character of the city, imposing restrictions on the people of Palestine, Christians and Muslims, in order to displace them and to prevent the faithful from praying at their holy sites.
We call upon the Israeli government to cease these practices, which violate international law. And from our side, our vision is for our capital in East Jerusalem to be open to the followers of the three monotheistic religions without discrimination.
These Israeli practices have led to the migration of Christians and Muslims, who should be able to stay on their ancestral land. We are ready to work together to strengthen the Palestinian indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem.
We would like to express from the bottom of our hearts that we value your efforts and support for the rights of our people. We count on Your Holiness to contribute towards enabling our people to attain their freedom and full independence, by bringing the Israeli occupation to a complete end and establishing an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Your Holiness, you saw the monstrous wall being constructed by Israel, the occupying power on our land, at a time when we desperately needed to build bridges of communication and dialogue rather than anything that would sow the seeds of hatred, malice, and hostility. We, the people, are looking to live in freedom and dignity and to have sovereignty over our national soil, away from the occupation.
We are committed to the Arab Peace Initiative. Once Israel withdraws from the territory it occupied in 1967, all the Arab and Islamic countries will recognize Israel and immediately establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
Your Holiness, thank you for meeting with the children of the refugee camps who are living the tragedy and sufferings of displacement and asylum, which was imposed on them by the Nakba 66 years ago.
Your Holiness, we don't ask for the impossible, and we have made sacrifices for peace. We have accepted the establishment of the independent State of Palestine only on the land occupied in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside the State of Israel in security, mutual respect, and good neighborliness.
We also appreciate your willingness to share a meal with the Palestinian families who are representative of our society that lives under occupation. This meeting sends a message to the whole world, and reminds the world of the tragedy of Palestine.
We in Palestine are counting on your generous efforts towards realizing the rights of our people and we welcome any initiative which you may take to make peace a reality in the Holy Land, which will enable our people to build a life and a future.
It's time to respect the principles of rights, justice, peace, freedom, and human dignity that you believe in, and which are the foundation of all religions as well as international laws and resolutions. These are all principles that must be respected and applied in the Holy Land.
We take this historic opportunity of your presence among us today to send a message of peace to our Israeli neighbors by saying: come and make peace based on truth, justice, equality, and mutual respect. Your work for the good of your people to live in prosperity, peace, and stability is the exact same thing that we strive for.
Security, peace, and stability are in our mutual interest, for our region and the whole world. Peace is made with a wise mind and heart, and a living moral and human conscience, in order to remove injustice, oppression, and abuse. Also, (peace is made) by abandoning expansion at the expense of the rights of others -- the policy of double standards. Honest and sincere intentions are needed to achieve desired peace, which shall be enjoyed by our future generations.
Your Holiness, thousands of believers have been waiting for you since the morning in Manger Square to express their love, appreciation, and respect, and to pray with you to Almighty God for brotherhood, love, and peace.
We welcome your Holiness and the Vatican delegation to Palestine, the land of peace, and we wish you all the health and happiness and every blessing to the believers.
Peace be upon you.